While other people were breakdancing and watching MTV in the 1980s, John Benko was working on a practical solution to a common manufacturing headache.
The headache was hot rooms, and his solution was the Sahara Hot Box oven.
"I was working in a chemical plant that needed to heat 55-gallon drums of viscous material," Benko tells New Equipment Digest. "At the time, there was no easy way to do this, as drum-warming ovens did not exist."
Benko, now president of Sheffield Village, Ohio-based Benko Products Inc.
, developed and patented the Sahara Hot Box oven in 1983. And the rest, as they say, is history.
NED: What motivated Benko to develop this line of ovens?
: I was working in a chemical plant that needed to heat 55-gallon drums of viscous material. At the time, there was no easy way to do this, as drum-warming ovens did not exist.
I developed and patented the first Sahara Hot Box oven in 1983.
NED: How are these products different from similar ovens on the market today?
: The Sahara Hot Box oven itself has no direct competitors.
Manufacturers can choose to build their own "hot room" rather than utilize drum-warming ovens. This means building a cinder-block room with a heat source, either steam or electric. In this process, forklifts drive totes or boxes into the homemade hot rooms.
This approach has numerous drawbacks, including poor circulation and poor temperature uniformity. These hot rooms are also expensive and can put workers at risk by requiring them to enter the "hot" area.
By comparison, the compact footprint and energy-efficient design of the Sahara Hot Box oven allows plants to safely and efficiently heat as many drums as needed.
NED: What problems needed to be addressed during the development process?
: During development, I had three main objectives.
One was how to safely heat drums of potentially dangerous material.
Two was how to efficiently heat drums quickly and using the least amount of energy.
And three was how to make the oven convenient for the plant.
NED: How long did it take from conception to ultimate production?
: One year.
NED: What effect did cost factors have in changing the final design of the product?
: Costs played virtually no role in the final development of the Sahara Hot Box oven.
I was committed to creating a revolutionary drum-warming oven that is designed as a lower-cost alternative to building a homemade hot room. It costs considerably less to buy/build and it saves more on energy costs.
NED: Who is your target audience and what benefits will they achieve from using this product?
: Any company that has drums or totes of materials that require heating would be the target audience for this product.
If a company simply needs a material to be heated to reduce viscosity to allow it to be pumped, if the product is frozen and needs to be thawed, or if a company needs to reach a certain temperature in order for a chemical reaction to occur, they need the Sahara Hot Box oven.